Current day, 06:02 AM, just outside of Thompsonville, Virginia.
The early morning sun peeked over the edge of the mountains. It added a hazy orange hue to the fog that draped over the treetops like a blanket. Through the misty light, Ben could see the fearful looks on the quartet’s faces. “I know you guys are worried, and yeah, they’re going to be looking for us soon. You just need to believe me when I say it’s going to be alright. I have an old cabin we can hide out in a couple miles from here,” he said, lifting up a collection of prickly branches to let the four members of the Hitchens family step below.
Frannie passed beneath the man’s arm and then grabbed the pistol from where it rested in the small of Ben’s back. She expertly lifted it to his head, pointing the weapon at his temple. “Don’t...”
“Hey, hey, hold on a second, I just saved you guys,” Ben exclaimed, slowly lowering the branch and raising his hands.
“And that is the only reason you are still breathin’ right now, fella. So, it’s time to start answering me some questions!” Frannie said angrily, her three children now standing safely behind their armed mother. “First, what the hell is going on here? Why did you save us? Is it because you are afraid of Cole?”
“No, it’s not like that. Look, we really need to keep moving.”
Frannie pulled the hammer back on the pistol and stepped forward. “I will not hesitate to pull this trigger.”
“Woah, okay!” Ben said, ducking. “Your husband, erm, ex-husband and I, we’re partners.”
“Partners in what?” the woman inquired. “I thought Kevin and Cole were in this together?”
“They are, kind of, but it’s not that cut and dried. Your ex and I, we worked together overseas...went to training camp together.”
“Overseas? What camp, that damn militia camp?” Frannie asked.
Raven spoke up, “Jesus is...”
Kaitlyn planted a hand over her little sister’s mouth.
Ben shook his head. “No, The Farm.”
“I ain’t never seen you around daddy’s farm. You better start makin’ some sense asshole!” Frannie growled. “If’n you’re right and we ain’t got much time to waste, you need to cut to it! ’Cause you are endangering my kids and all of that ends today, understood!?!!”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry. The Farm is a CIA training facility,” Ben said looking at Frannie over the barrel of the pistol held in her very calm hand.
“Momma,” Hunter interrupted. “That’s the spy people from the government. I’ve read a lot of books about ’em.”
“I know who the CIA is, honey. Now, kids, all of you just you stay back until I figure out what kind of game Ben here is playing,” the woman replied. “So, Ben, you are tellin’ me that my Cole is some kind of secret agent and you’re his partner?”
“Yes ma’am, I am. Look my real name is not Ben. Cole let me borrow that name on occasion when we were on assignment in Afghanistan. He said since he didn’t use his first name, I could use it,” Ben said with a grin. “On loan, with interest, mind you. Somebody was always in debt to Cole.”
Frannie cocked her head at an angle. ”My Cole was in prison, not over yonder in the Middle East or someplace.”
Raven set one fidgeting Mr. Buttons down on the ground. The little dog happily marched over next to Ben, hoisted his leg and whizzed next to the man’s combat boot. He kicked at the ground with his hind legs and trotted off back to Raven with his tongue out.
“Really?” Ben asked, watching the dog with narrowed eyes.
“He don’t like you none, mister,” Raven said, retrieving the animal from the ground.
Ben exhaled. “Look, Cole was picked up by the CIA a little while after he was sentenced to prison. The Company needed him for a special assignment and sent him off to a CIA training camp. That’s where he and I met. You know, at first we didn’t get along, but he kind of grew on me. Honestly, I wouldn’t have made it back to the States without him, he...”
“Shhhh!” Ben said, lifting a finger to his lips. “Okay, either you shoot me Frannie or we need to get a move on, I think they are coming. You hear that?”
“Sounds like a four-wheeler to me,” Kaitlyn said with her hands on her hips.
“Yeah, but we can’t take that chance,” Ben replied and pointed a finger at his ears. “You know, not only do you look like your daddy, you must have his hearing. That man can identify almost any weapon by its report.”
Kaitlyn narrowed her eyes at Ben. “Thanks?”
Ben nodded with a smile.
“Okay, take us to your cabin, erm, Ben, but you and me, we ain’t done talking, you hear?” Frannie said and then waved the pistol in front of her indicating the man should lead on.
“Yes, ma’am! Let’s get off this trail and back into the woods.”
January 19th, 2013, CIA Training Facility ‘The Farm’, Virginia
Biltmore slapped Cole’s outstretched glove away. “Go to hell, Hitchens!” he shouted as he stood from the red floor mat wiping blood from his lip. “I don’t want your help!”
Fitz exhaled and stood behind Cole with his arms crossed. “Are you tired, Recruit Biltmore? You want to go home?”
“No, sir, Agent Fitz, sir!” the man shouted as he rose to his feet.
“Then, will you please take down your opponent? Your ass hits that mat one more time and I will consider cutting you.”
Fitz nodded his head once and Biltmore’s eyes widened. The man was serious.
“Fine then, Hitchens, let’s do this,” Biltmore said under his breath as he and Cole squared off once again.
Cole stared through his adversary, expanding the use of his peripheral vision. He watched Biltmore fake a move with his right shoulder and throw a left hook. It was an expected attack, Cole had been studying his opponent’s moves enough to figure out Biltmore followed a common pattern. Nevertheless, he let the fist make contact with his jaw. Cole reeled. It was a decent punch after all.
Biltmore bounced around Cole with his hands next to his face. However, it was not out of triumph...it was out of fear, fear of retribution.
Cole threw a weak left, right, left succession once and then again. “One, two, three...” he thought. “Pick up on it, dummy.”
Biltmore took the opportunity. He anticipated the next predictable barrage and briefly turtled up, waiting for Cole to drop his left hand.
Cole saw stars and stumbled backwards. “Dammit!” he exclaimed as Biltmore’s glove made contact with his head once more.
Fitz grinned and patted Biltmore on the back. “Good job.” The agent spun on his heel and walked away shouting at the other recruits to keep their hands up.
“Why would you do that?” Biltmore asked, the gloves dropping to his sides. “Do you think that I wouldn’t notice you give me those two shots? You know you already have a target on your back, don’t you?”
Cole shrugged. “You deserve to be here. Yeah, I do want to finish this and prove I belong, but you, you already have. You have the pedigrees to prove it.”
“A lot of good those will do under fire or in hand-to-hand combat.” Biltmore replied. “I mean, this is just one example.”
“Where did you learn to fight anyways, Hitchens?”
“An old Green Beret who spent some time over in Thailand. He picked up a bit of stand-up, erm, Thai kickboxing.”
“The MMA stuff, Muy Thai?”
“Yeah, that and he also picked up a raging STD from doing God knows what.”
Biltmore laughed aloud.
“What the hell are you doing over there, Biltmore and Hitchens, get back to it!” Fitz shouted angrily from across the training room.
“Wanna learn?” Cole asked in a low voice.
Biltmore scratched at his head with a gloved hand and glanced over at Fitz who was busily staring him down. “Yeah, but it’s going to have to be on down time...um, well because...you know.”
“I know,” Cole replied. “That lying asshole Fitz has made me his pet project, and sadly, it’s not in a good way.”
Biltmore cocked his jaw and lifted it toward Cole. “Hit me.”
“Just do it, I deserve it,” Biltmore commanded. “Hit me hard. Let’s give him a show.”
Cole shrugged. “Alright.” He stomped forward with his left foot and planted a gloved fist into the side of Biltmore’s head, sending the man to the ground.
Biltmore stood with Cole’s assistance and the pair began trading licks in between conversation.
“What the hell, Biltmore?” Fitz mumbled.